The Gender Trap

I would be lying if I said there weren’t a part of me hoping that K is one of the children who becomes a desister. Meaning, in a few months, or years, she decides that she is not actually a girl, but goes back to being a boy. It’s not that I have an issue with her being transgender. My hesitation comes from a worry about the world. I know that growing up trans is going to be very difficult at times, and like any parent, I don’t want my child to hurt. If I can protect her from the hate and the pain that she will inevitably experience, I would love to be able to do that. I think this inner hope causes me to fall into what I call “gender traps” a bit more easily.

So what is a gender trap? For me, a gender trap is when I allow myself to fall into the misconception that specific toys or activities are more related to one gender than another, and somehow I use this information to try and make inferences on K’s gender identity. One of my most recent gender traps occurred about two weeks ago. Ben was out mowing the lawn and I was sitting outside building a deck (drilling, screwing, hammering, etc.) While I was building, K asked if she could take her play lawnmower out and help daddy mow the lawn. It didn’t matter that she was outside mowing in pink sparkly shoes and a fantastically twirly dress, as I sat there I caught myself thinking, “Maybe she is a desister. Mowing the lawn is such a boy thing.” What I find most ironic about my ridiculous gender stereotype is that I was actively doing an activity that is traditionally considering “for men.” Even though I was defying gender stereotypes, I didn’t imagine that that was possible for my daughter as well.

When K first asked us to be our daughter, I caught myself wondering if we needed to introduce her to more boys to play with or even more stereotypically boy activities to take part in. For instance, should we force her to join a baseball team? Should we not have had her join a gymnastics class dominated by little girls? When I first started questioning it, Ben asked me if I would force big sister into the same activities. The answer was obviously no. I mean, why would I force any child into an activity they have specifically told me that they do NOT want to do? Needless to say, K stayed in gymnastics and I didn’t force her to try out any “boy” teams.

Ben and I have tried to catch ourselves a lot with things like this. Part of the difficulty is probably because of K’s non-traditional gender expression. I find that we fall into gender traps with her far more easily than her cis-gender big sister. If big sister wanted to go out and help daddy mow, I would never consider that her gender identity was “boy.” In fact, I would probably be applauding how she is defying stereotypes. So how do we get over this? Until I let go of the hope that K may be a desister, I feel like there is always a part of me that will doubt her gender identity and by doubting it, am I really accepting her as a “girl.” We are still very new to this (it’s only been about 4 months) so I imagine a lot of that is just going to come with time. After all, I had a son for 4 years. It’s a struggle to see my son in K’s face anymore. More and more, I just see K, a fact that makes me simultaneously incredibly happy and a bit sad. For now, we will just keep doing what we are doing: loving our child and supporting her in any way that we can. With time, I know that the “gender traps” as my brain gets more and more used to K’s gender identity. In the meantime, we will continue to questions ourselves on decisions to ensure that we don’t make decisions for her based on her gender identity any more than we would for her cis-gender sister.

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Mama Bear

There are a number of posts that I have set up to write, but it’s been a pretty crazy summer here. That being said, last week was pretty tough. In fact, I pretty much spent all day Wednesday (and quite a bit of Thursday) in tears.

I don’t believe that I have mentioned it in previous posts, but Ben is a naval officer. While he was once an active duty submarine officer, he is now in the naval reserves. Both of our parents also served in the military, as did our grandparents. Point being, we have strong connections to the military. I remember one day last fall, Ben came home from his navy reserve weekend ecstatic. He had just had a briefing about how the military would start allowing openly transgender people to serve. This was a big deal and we both knew it. It was a very exciting time. Flash forward to last month when Ben spoke with a 3-star-admiral. During their conversation, the admiral remarked on how proud he was of the military about their new policy for transgender service members. Since this had been adopted as policy, we weren’t incredibly worried about what this administration would do.

This is where last Wednesday kicks in. As the family and I were driving down to my mom’s house (about 6 hours away), I notice a news story. Turns out, the president decided to Tweet that morning that transgender service members would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. His Tweet did not say that new service members could not sign up, but rather that even the current service members would no longer be able to serve in any capacity. I was floored. I’m not stupid. I knew it was only a matter of time before this administration full out attacked transgender people. This particular assault caught me off guard. It was kind of  a double whammy; not only was this an attack on my child’s community, but it was an attack on veterans. I don’t care how you identity, if you are willing to stand up and put your life on the line for this country, you are a hero and should be treated as such. To be told that you are a distraction in the military because of your gender identification, to be told that your service isn’t good enough… it made my blood boil. If they could attack veterans like this, what else would they be capable of?

I only had to wait a few hours until the news story popped up about the Justice Department arguing that Title VII does not protect LGBTQ from workplace discrimination. It was two blows against us in the same day. I felt like we were living in an alternate reality. How is this what the world is becoming? Why is there all of this hate and fear? Lately, I have found that my usual coping method of logical thinking just isn’t working anymore. Science tells us over and over again that many of the preconceptions people hold about LGBTQ people are false. They are not sexual deviants. They have not been created by over zealous mothers. They are not hanging out in bathrooms waiting to assault people. And yet, it is OK to hate them? It is OK to refuse them service at your store or restaurant because it doesn’t comply with your religious views? I don’t understand. There are so many laws in the bible, you can’t possibly ban everyone who has broken biblical laws from your store, otherwise you would never have any employees or customers. Men who have cheated on their wives? Ban them. Women who have taken birth control? Not allowed. People who have master-bated? That’s a serious no-no. Who would be left? Why are we picking and choosing which rules to follow?

After a good day of crying, I decided to scrape myself up off the floor and do something about it. Instead or wallowing in my own self-pity and fear, I knew I had to turn that energy into something good. On Thursday, I applied to volunteer with two different LGBTQ groups near us. We have been donating money whenever we can, but after Wednesday it was time to get even more involved. If I want the make a difference, what better way than to dive in and get to work? I can’t sit back and let my daughter’s rights be decided by others. I need to jump into this full force and be an activist for her. She needs me, and you, and everyone who is willing to fight with us… her whole community does. I wonder how many LGBTQ youths thought about suicide after the events of last week? How many of them are worried that things won’t get better? K is still young and doesn’t grasp what the world out there will be like for her. Older kids (and adults) do though and we need to be there for them. We cannot combat the hate by ourselves; we are stronger together. This mama bear is ready to fight. Are you with me?

In-Laws, the Election, and being an Ally

This weekend, my in-laws came to visit us from Kentucky. You may recall that my MIL asked us why we chose not to closet K and she was also apparently physically incapable of reading a book to educate herself on “gender-creative” children. Well, a few weeks ago, MIL did finally read the book (amazing, I know) as did her husband. It was a step in the right direction, especially since after reading it, my FIL referred to himself as an “ill-informed idiot.”

Even with my FIL’s self proclaimed idiocy, I was not excited for this trip. The truth is, I have had a real difficult time with these two since November. Really it’s been a difficult for 11 years since they threatened to disown their son if he proposed to me, but November clinched my disgust with them. My in-laws were Trump supporters. Not Trump voters, Trump supporters. I feel like this is an important distinction to make. There are of course those who voted with the GOP in order to make sure they had their Supreme Court picks, etc. Then there were those who were on board with the hate that he spewed for months on the campaign trail. My FIL not only overlooked Trump’s flaws, but told us that he “has not been this excited about a candidate since Reagan.” Needless to say, this left a very bad taste in my mouth.

I tried after the election to create a relationship with them. I even went on a two week vacation with them in January… that was before the inauguration. After November 9, I started seeing more and more people being comfortable expressing their hate; they were emboldened. After all, if someone like Trump can say what he said AND become President, why should they have to hide it anymore? Once the policies started hitting in January (revoking President Obama’s recommendation for transgender students, for example), that bad taste in my mouth got worse and worse every day. So while my FIL told me he was an idiot after reading a book, I still had seen the hate that he voted for, supported, and was excited about. Naturally, I was terrified of this visit.

If K hadn’t been who she was, I may have been able to suck up my frustration and deal with things better. As it stands though, Grandma and Grandpa were excited about policies that would directly (and negatively) affect my daughter. The mama bear instinct kicked in. For the most part I operated under the idea that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I wouldn’t say anything at all. It worked until we brought them to a support group for families of transgender children. At one point, we were talking about bathroom bills. When it was my turn to talk, I started crying. I looked at them and said, “Do you really think that K would be safe walking into a men’s bathroom in rural KY, or do you think someone would beat the shit out of her?” This was an opportunity for my in-laws to show me that not only would they accept K, but they would be an ally. They could have said that they will fight against bathroom bills, that they disagree with the bills… something. Instead, my MIL replied, “We would never let that happen. We would go into the bathroom with her.” I’m sorry, what? First of all, in what world would you always be around to escort a transgender person into the bathroom? What happens when she is 15 and just out on her own? In reality she would go into the bathroom she identifies with (possibly illegally), but that’s not the point. Instead of speaking out against the violence, trying to stop the violence, standing up for my daughter’s rights, they would just escort her.

K will be lucky. Having transitioned at an early age and coming from an upper middle class family, she will have a lot of resources at her disposal. I have no doubt that she will be able to blend in when she hits puberty. But what about people who don’t have our resources? What about people who don’t identify as part of the binary? One of my best friends identifies as female, but has a masculine gender expression. She is stared at and even confronted no matter which bathroom she chooses to use. What about trans people who transitioned after puberty, who are more noticeably trans? Being an ally for my child does not just mean that you accept my child; I need you to stick up for her rights and her safety, which also means sticking up for transgender rights as a whole. You can’t truly protect my daughter until the rights of transgender people are protected and until the societal stigma surrounding the trans community is destroyed. That’s how you are an ally. Simply escorting my daughter to the bathroom does not suffice, and I am offended that they think it does.

In talking to my in laws this weekend, it was also clear that even given K’s transition, they do not regret their decision in November at all, and they would do it again in a heartbeat. They would again choose to vote against my child’s rights. I’m glad that they read the book, but it isn’t enough. Don’t tell me or the others in my support group that you are there for them. It’s like a slap in the face when you tell me that you can’t vote democratic because you are pro-life. That’s my MIL’s reason. Because that unborn baby’s life is more important than her grandchild’s. It doesn’t matter how many people these policies hurt, how many transgender children are driven to suicide because of bathroom use… as long as abortion is illegal, nothing else matters.

 

Gymnastics Camp

K’s big sister is a big swimmer. She started synchronized swim team at 5, at which point she was already able to do the butterfly stroke across a pool. Needless to say, when you have a fish for a child, you spend a lot of time at the pool (she would be there every day if I let her). One of the pools that we go to is attached to a big gymnastics facility. K has always been fascinated with the kids while they are doing gymnastics. She just watches them in awe.

In January (pre-transition), we finally started K in some classes. Since I wasn’t sure how she would like it, we went with a place close to us, just a small dance studio that happened to have gymnastics stuff. I mean, at just shy of 4, she didn’t need all of the crazy fancy equipment. This seemed like a good way to try it out. I will always remember how on her second week of classes, she came jumping up to me with a fancy blue tutu outfit with this big smile on her face. “I’m so happy that I found a sport that I love,” she said. I had never seen such joy on her face. I had to immediately call her dad and tell him how happy she was. It was so great to see.

Flash forward to this summer. While big sister was at her own camping experience, I found a gymnastics camp for K to try. It was just 5 minutes away from big sis AND it was at one of the big fancy places. She so excited, we even picked her up a new outfit to commemorate it.

When we went to sign up, I was faced with a minor dilemma. We registered online and we had to put in Name (obviously) and gender. Since there was no “name” and “preferred name” spots, I decided to just go with the new name, even if it isn’t legal yet. I also marked the F box. I kept that window open for a day before I hit submit. While it didn’t feel like lying, I wasn’t exactly sure that it was legal. After all, what if there was an emergency? After consulting a few other trans mommies, I decided to click “send” and talk to the coach once we started.

That brings us to this past Tuesday. K was so excited about starting at her new gym that she had to dress up for it. Since we were already wearing fancy gymnastics clothes, she decided that we should also wear her shiny black tap dance shoes. Obviously. When we walked into the gymnastics facility, K was on cloud 9. It was everything that she had imagine. I, on the other hand, was terrified. I felt like I needed to talk to someone there and I didn’t know how they would respond. In retrospect, I probably should have called beforehand. K would be crushed if we had to leave for any reason.

I went up to the front desk and asked them if I could speak to a manager. The receptionist seemed curious, and confused. “Is something wrong?” she asked. “No, my daughter just has a medical condition that I wanted to talk to them about,” I said. While I don’t consider being transgender a medical condition, this seemed like the easiest way to get her not to ask questions. She wanted to know if it was put on our registration and she seemed bothered when I told her no. I was started to feel a bit of panic build inside of me. Crap. Would I have to add this to her file? Would everyone know? I was hoping that she could be stealth and just be any other girl in that class.

The coach came out, a young 20 year old. When I told her that K was transgender, she just said, “OK.” It was absolutely no big deal to her. At all. There was no “Well we’ll have to figure something out.” There was no hesitation, no facial twitch to make me think she was holding something back. Nothing. Complete acceptance. I thought it was important in an emergency that someone have K’s legal name and gender, but I mentioned that I hadn’t put anything in our paperwork. She just responded with, “Why would you? It’s none of their business.” That was the moment that I knew everything would be OK. K was with a safe teacher.

At the end of lessons, I mentioned that we would probably continue after camp ended. Once K turns 5, I noticed that they group classes by gender. Before committing to this facility, I wanted to make sure that they would continue to not only be accepting of K, but also to allow her to continue taking classes with her identified gender. I was told that she “thought” it would be OK, but I should talk to the facility director tomorrow.

Yesterday, I asked Ally (the teacher) if she could point out the director to me so that I could talk to her. She just smiled. “Oh, I already talked to her for you. Put K in the girls classes. This is a non-issue and no questions will ever be asked… at least until puberty but that’s a LONG time away.” I could have just hugged her. “If we switch coaches, do you think that they need to know?” I wondered. “Nope. No one else here needs to know. The director is aware so in an emergency she can take care of it.” I left there feeling amazing. This wasn’t going to be a battle, at least not with them (parents who find out may still pose a problem), and for me, that was huge. That’s how her swimming lessons handled it too. I hear stories of parents fighting for these very things, and while I would fight for it, if we were at a facility that had taken a negative stance, I don’t think that I would have sent K there even after we did win.

K’s coach had a lot of questions for me, but they were really good questions. It turns out that she is in college right now, getting a degree in pediatric nursing. She absolutely believes that kids at K’s age know their “true” gender, but she wanted to hear our story and know how it all came about. She seemed like a great person to educate on the subject, someone who would be in a position to spread that information forward and to use it every day in her professional life. Maybe she will. I hope so. I hope that our story makes a difference, somewhere, to someone.

It gets easier… right?

All in all, I feel like we have been pretty lucky with K’s transition. Because of her age, we haven’t had to worry about coming out in too many places. Coming out though has been nerve racking each and every time. I always wonder how people are going to respond. We live in a red town, and even though it doesn’t necessarily mean that people will not be accepting of her, I feel like liberal blue areas are a safer bet. Not all liberals are trans allies, but a larger percent of them are. So far, no one here has responded negatively toward us, which is phenomenal.

I’ve mentioned before that I started purging people from our lives even before K came out to us. We used to be a part of a local Mom’s Club, and when K would show up to playdates wearing dresses, there were a few moms that would roll their eyes and even comment. Add to that the moms that I noticed writing hateful things on Facebook about Target and the bathroom laws… it was clear that some people in our lives would not be safe and we would need to slowly pull away. After all, if they couldn’t handle a boy in a dress, why would I ever imagine that they could handle a transgender child?

Luckily for me, I am pretty introverted and prefer to keep just a few very close friends by me. I was nervous even coming out to those friends even though I knew how much they loved me and my children. It’s scary though. I’ve seen the hateful comments online, I’ve read articles, seen the polls. I know that there is hate out there and I know that it could easily be directed toward K at anytime.

I pulled away from posting things about the kids on social media as K became increasingly gender-nonconforming. When you are “friends” with hundreds of people, can you really vouch for them? Do you know that they aren’t going to gossip about your child, possibly even take photos from your profile? Maybe I’m paranoid, maybe I’m not. In May, I spent about a week going through all of my photos of the kids and making them private so that only I could see them. Then I went through my “friends” list and deleted all but about 100 that I knew had expressed support for the LGBTQ community or that I trusted with all of my heart. After ensuring that I had done all I could to keep K safe on social media, we made an announcement and everyone left was so supportive, which is exactly what this mommy needed.

What about all of those deleted friends though? Since we’re homeschooling, there isn’t too much of a chance that we would bump into them, especially since we do our sports teams and such about 30 minutes away. We really don’t do any extracurriculars in our town. Seemed pretty safe. Nope. Today K started at a new gymnastics studio, 25 minutes away from our town. They offered a camp, and we had to try it out. There were four families there (including us) and one of them was in Mom’s Club with us. I was terrified. Would she remember that I had a son? Would she realize that that son was now K? Would she out me to the other moms? What do I say? How do I handle it?

She didn’t say anything to me during camp, but she reached out afterward because she noticed that we weren’t Facebook friends anymore and she wanted to friend me again. Crap. If she friended me, she would see our coming out post, even if she didn’t remember that K used to be a he. I ended up writing her a long note explaining what was going on, why I deleted her, how we were trying to be stealth, etc. Then I waited. This camp was supposed to be all week and she was friends with the other two moms. Would our secret be out? How would she respond? It was such a long 49 minutes of waiting, but she ended up responding great and promised to keep it between us. Another good coming out experience… for now.

What happens when we bump into other people who remember my “son.” I know that they won’t all be OK, and I am so afraid. I am not afraid for me, I get it. I can take it. I understand that not everyone is ready for children like K. But will she? I dread the day that K is exposed to the type of hate that is out there. I don’t want her heart to break. I can’t always be there to protect her and that terrifies me. I know it’s coming and I know that I can’t protect her forever. I just wish with all my hear that I could. Every time that we have had to tell someone, I find myself holding my breath, waiting until they respond to know if I can relax and breath again. I imagine that after the first really bad response, I’ll start building up an emotional exoskeleton, an “I don’t give a fuck what you think” attitude. It’s not there yet. I wonder if being exposed to the hate and realizing that it didn’t break us is the only way for it all to get easier. I hope not, but I just don’t know.

Our First Pride Festival

This weekend, our family went to our local Pride festival. Somehow I have never been to a Pride festival despite having spent 4 years living in Boston… it seems like such a shame.

K is obviously too young to really understand Pride, but we thought it was important for her to go. Since K came out to us, we have wanted to teach her to not only be proud of who she is, but also to show her that there are other people like her; we don’t ever want her to feel alone in this journey or like there is something wrong with her. While rare, what she is experiencing is natural. The best way to teach her that, is to show her.

The kids had been counting down to Pride all week; we had been planning our rainbow clothes, pins, etc. Big sister was particularly excited about some rainbow earrings she had found, while K was excited about her rainbow hair.

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We spent all morning preparing. K had a rough start after bonking her head on the way out of the car, but she pulled her mood together and had a great time. Both children loved walking around and seeing all of the different vendors. We decked ourselves out with some “Equality = Awesome” t-shirts, and some window clings advertising our liberal attitudes to the world. The real star of our purchases however, was the transgender flag that we bought K. She absolutely loved waving it around, both as she walked, and at the parade. She asked for it in the car on our way home, and it has been hanging in her bed ever since.

We have used the term “transgender” with K before and she understands it. Today felt different though. It was like not only did she understand it, she identified with it. She understood how being “transgender” related to her, she understood that it stood for a whole group of people like her, and she seemed very proud of it. Every time that she saw another transgender flag she said, “That’s MY flag!” She wasn’t saying it like they matched her flag, but rather that she identified with that flag and she understood that it stood for people just like her.  Something clicked for her yesterday. Perhaps it was just feeling accepted by the world instead of “different.” Maybe one day she’ll be able to explain it to me.

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On the way home, I reiterated to K just how proud of her I was. I told her that she was very brave, and that one day I want to be brave just like her. I also made sure to tell her that no matter what, I will love her. I am not proud of her because she’s transgender, I’m proud of her for being exactly who she is. If she decides one day that she isn’t a girl, if we go back to before transition, or if K decides she is actual neither male nor female, I will love her and be proud of her. I want her to feel confident to make that decision for herself without worrying about any pressure from me either way. She is such a wonderful kid and I am such a lucky mom.

 

Trucks are Gender Neutral

Before K told us that she was K, she used to love trucks. I mean LOVE them. Her 2nd birthday was construction themed, her 3rd birthday was fire-truck themed, and even her 4th birthday was Paw Patrol themed and she wanted all of their vehicles. She has loved trucks for as long as I can remember, in the same way that she has loved dresses.

I have mentioned before that dad and I had realized before her transition that K may be transgender. I remember talking to him at night both of us saying that we wondered… K loved dresses and dolls, always wanted to play with her older sister’s friends, BUT she loved trucks. I’m not even kidding. Her love of trucks was something that dad and I used as a justification for why this child couldn’t possibly be transgender. I am honestly offended at myself. After all, I am a cis-gender woman and if I were given the opportunity to jump in a big truck, I wouldn’t hesitate. Heck yeah! Those things are awesome! They are fascinating. So why is it that I could love trucks as a woman, but my child loving trucks meant she must be a boy? It’s crazy really.

As K began to overcompensate more and more on this journey, I was scared that she was going to give up her passion for trucks. At this point she has already given up some of her favorite clothes (not the dresses obviously), her favorite stuffed animal (of two years) has been replaced, and I can’t even use our gender neutral nicknames with her. This child wants nothing to do with her previous self.

Not too long ago, we went to a children’s museum. It was honestly one of the coolest set-ups I have ever seen. They had a room there where kids could be construction workers (which goes along with the truck love) and it was K’s favorite part of this whole fantastic place. She just wanted to wear her fancy dress, put her construction worker clothes over it, and build stuff. She had a blast and so did I. I was so relieved and happy to see that not everything about K had to be bottled up and set aside; K would let this passion of hers coexist with her new identity.

I really hope that she can continue to allow these parts of herself to mingle. Stereotyping things by gender is silly. Just as there are plenty of girls who like trucks (like K and myself), there are plenty of boys who don’t. I hate how the world tries to sort everything into pink and blue, whether clothing or toys. In reality we are all a mix… pink, blue, and everything in between.

I haven’t really posted any pictures of K, but here is one of her working on her construction. I will continue to keep her face hidden in any photos I post, for her own privacy, but as I find photos that work I’ll attach some 🙂 IMG_3206

Puppies, Vets, and a Gender Binary System

Two weeks ago, on the last day of our road trip, we got a puppy. The girls have spent the last few months asking Ben and I for a puppy, and I finally caved. Big Sis A had been taking care of our rabbits for months, so I figured that she was ready.

I spent months scouting rescue facilities for months looking for the right dog since I knew that we only had one chance at this; once the kids saw the first dog, it would be over. Whether or not the dog was the right one for us, we’d probably be going home with it. I happened to find a breed of dog that we were interested in AND it was a puppy. The only problem? Its genitals. The girls really really wanted a female dog and this puppy had a penis.

I spoke to the girls about it and they decided that just because a dog had a penis didn’t mean that the dog needed to be a boy. With a transgender daughter, there was no way I was going to disagree with this logic. In fact, it seemed like a pretty perfect idea and K was so excited. In fact, on our way home, K declared that Daisy the puppy was “just like [her].” I was pretty sure that dogs didn’t give two hoots about what gender we assigned them and given the fact the puppy would be neutered very soon, gender mattered even less to me.

Our vet did not share our sentiments. I really don’t get it. Everyone else who met the dog noticed the gender discrepancy almost immediately. When we explain that the girls really wanted a female dog though, they ALL responded along the lines of, “Oh I remember when our kids did that with _____ animal.” This does not seem like a hard concept to grasp. When we went to Daisy’s first appointment, it was actually pretty funny. The vet and the assistant saw the pink collar and immediately started gender stereotyping the dog. They called her beautiful, baby talked her, told her what a great girl she was, etc. When the vet lifted her up to inspect the belly though, it all changed. My husband acknowledged that we knew the dog was male. He explained about our girls wanted a female dog. He also explained that we understood the dog would be neutered and not spayed. This did not end the conversation. The vet actually accused him of lying to her even though they never asked me Daisy’s gender when I made the appointment. She berated him for our decision to call the dog a different gender, and after the appointment while Ben was clearing our things to leave, she walked back in the room for no other purpose than to say that “Daisy looks like a boy dog.” The same woman who gender stereotyped the dog at the start. Holy cow.

After this exchange, I was so upset. Perhaps livid is a better word to use. And now we have to change vets. I’m just so happy that K wasn’t there at the appointment this time, although she usually is. At first, I figured that I would be mad, we’d keep the vet, and I would continue to give her attitude. Then I realized that K will be subjected to countless micro-aggressions throughout her life because of who she is. If I can spare her these, then it is my job as a parent to do so. Part of me feels like I’m over reacting, but most of me realizes that I need to help K in any way I can. Who’d have thought that K transition would even affect our choice of vet?! Luckily, a transgender individual in our area had a great recommendation for a transgender friendly vet, so I can only imagine they will go along with Daisy’s gender-conformity as well.

Why Didn’t You Closet Him?

Sadly, this is a question that my MIL asked us less than a month ago. When we saw the direction that K was going, we had asked her to read Raising my Rainbow in order to get a better view into our lives. We thought that this book was a great introduction to the world of parenting a gender-creative child. Knowing that she is an avid audiobook listener (pretty much listening to them constantly even at meal times), we even bought her the audiobook version. There was no excuse for her not to read it.

Three months after purchasing this for her, she had a conversation with my husband. Naturally Ben wanted to know if she had taken the time to listen to the book. The answer was no. I took this as a huge blow since in that span of time, I imagine she easily listened to as least 50 audiobooks. A book that would help her understand her grandchild did not make the priority list; Nora Roberts was a better use of her time. She said that she tried to read the first chapter, but it was “too painful” and she couldn’t go on. It was in this conversation that she asked us, “Why didn’t you closet him?” Notice the wrong pronoun usage? Just another way to let us know that she was not an ally for K.

Closet people. Really? This isn’t the 1950’s. I loved Ben’s response, “You mean, why didn’t we raise her to be ashamed of herself? To hide who she is? To teach her that there is something wrong with being like her?” Grandma immediately began backtracking. Framing “closeting” in that perspective really shows how negative it really is, and how harmful it can be to a person. What I think she meant was, why did we allow K to wear dresses? Why didn’t we push K into more “masculine” activities? Tell her that she couldn’t play with the dollhouse? Tell her that she had to have short hair? Why didn’t we choose to do these things to our child?

The shock answer is transgender children are 9 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. More than 40% of transgender people attempt suicide. Scary, right? It has me terrified for my child. I don’t know any parent that wouldn’t be scared to hear a statistic like that. There is a single factor that studies have found turn that around though… parental support. It turns out that children who come from a supportive family have a suicide attempt rate indistinguishable from the general population. Pretty amazing. Those kids still have a higher than normal level of anxiety, but it is far below clinical levels. It makes sense that anxiety would still be elevated when we start talking about bathrooms and locker rooms. With time, hopefully that becomes indistinguishable as well. A lot more studies still need to be done, but this is a huge finding so far. This generation of children will be the first generation that has been allowed to openly transition at a young age, so I imagine that a lot more research will be coming our way. For now, I will take the little that we have and find solace in the fact that by supporting K, I have cut her chances of suicide attempt significantly.

The counter argument to this is, what if K changes her mind? For that I respond, there is no harm to allow a child to experiment with their gender. Studies are not showing any negative effects caused by having parents allow their children to transition for a time and go back. So do I risk K de-transitioning one day where the only downside is having to come out to family yet again, or do I risk my child being significantly more likely to commit suicide? Not really a question.

That’s the shock answer. To be honest though, we didn’t know those statistics two years ago when we started on our gender creative journey so I can’t genuinely use them as justification for our actions. Here’s my honest answer: it doesn’t fucking matter. Who ever said that boys weren’t supposed to wear dresses? If girls are allowed to wear pants and dresses, why aren’t boys? I hate the hypocrisy. They are just clothes and clothing trends change like the wind. Men used to be expected to wear top hats and coats. Women didn’t use to wear pants. Clothing styles are defined by the media. What are the Gap models currently wearing? What hair style is in style for men? Long? Short? Man bun? I was more than happy to let my children choose the clothes that made them happy rather than the clothes that magazines showed they should be wearing. I was never one to follow the crowds and I wasn’t about to force my children into a society-defined mold either.  Be yourself. Be unique. Be happy. That’s all I ever wanted for my kids and all I ever pushed.

We made sure that the kids always had options growing up. Big sister A always had both stereotypically “girl toys” and “boy toys” available to play with. She had blue jeans, t-shirts, dresses, hand-me-downs from my nephew, you name it. With K, I actually didn’t give as many options. She had hand-me-downs from my nephew, and a bunch of bow ties and things that I had found for her. I did always give her control of her hair though. When K started asking to wear big sisters dresses, I was fine with it. Why not? They used to just do it for dress up. Around 3, K started asking for big sister’s hand-me-downs and we had a healthy mix of “girl clothes” for her to choose from, and the “boy clothes” that we received from my nephew. By 4, she didn’t want to shop in the boy section in stores any more. These were all her decisions though, and all her journey. Clothes are just clothes, they don’t define who you are. When K was identifying as a boy and wearing dresses in public, we got looks from people who realized K was a boy, but we got looks over a dress. More important to me were the compliments we received about how happy and well-behaved my children were. Having a happy, well adjusted, self-confident child, is so much more important to me than having a child who wears the “right” clothes. That’s why I didn’t closet her; she was so happy to express herself, why did it matter how she did it?

One of my favorite quotes from Raising my Rainbow is this: “How come when girls play with gender it’s a sign of strength, and when boys play with gender it’s a sign of weakness?” Think about it. If big sister wanted to cut her hair short, wear pants all the time, and play soccer instead of doing dance, would grandma have thought we needed to closet her? Would you? Now if a little boy wanted to do gymnastics, wear a tutu, and have long hair, would you be as accepting? Like many of us, I imagine that you have been programmed to view those two situations completely differently and that is a discrepancy that needs to be changed.

The Road Trip

My family and I got back from a two-week long road trip last night. It was so great. I feel like everyone in our family has been a little stressed, and some time away from home was exactly what we needed.

Leading up to the trip, I was pretty curious. How would K handle it? Would it help K to get away from all things that reminded her of her previous life? This was a chance for her to go somewhere where no one ever knew her as A. No one would question her gender. No one would mess up her name. No one would use the wrong pronouns. She would just be K, my daughter.

At the half-way point in our road trip, we were going to a wedding for some college friends in Boston. I spoke with them ahead of time and they were incredibly supportive of K’s transition. We moved away from there when K was only 3 months old, so they never really knew her as A and K doesn’t remember them at all. The wedding went awesome. Not only did no one slip up, but no one even talked to me about it. It was a non-conversation. K was K, and that was that. No one needed more information, no one hounded me with questions about how we were doing or what it all means. They were accepting, supportive, and loving.

Because of the treatment at the wedding (and the fact that the rest of our two weeks was spent with strangers) we had two weeks where we weren’t constantly bombarded with reminders that we used to call K a boy. As I mentioned, I wondered how this was going to affect K. What I hadn’t thought of was how it would affect me.

It was the second day of our road trip and we were driving in the car. K was wearing a new green and blue dress that my mom had gotten her. I looked back from the passenger seat and I saw her. I didn’t see the the son that I used to have, I saw K… my daughter. It was different than usual. I used to look at her and see a mix of two children: my son A and my daughter K. Depending on what K was wearing, somedays I would see more of A and sometimes more of K, but always a mix. This day changed it though. I saw her. She was just K. I stared at her for I don’t know how long, and I kept staring throughout that day and the next. Once I escaped from my daily reminders of A, he was gone. I didn’t see him at all for the next 12 days of our trip. It was surreal.

I wish that I could have held onto those feelings forever. I wish that when we got back home, the confusion didn’t come back. But it did. Not to the degree that it was there before, but it came back. This morning when we were outside, one of our neighbors approached us and stared telling me how A “looks just like his dad.” One sentence was all it took remind me that I used to have a son. K heard it too. She just looked at my neighbor, turned on her heels, and walked away. She refused to even say hi. After that, I started seeing both kids again, trying to reconcile my memories with the present. At least now, K’s identity in my mind is so much stronger and I see A even less than before. I’m sure with time, A will fade further and further from my mind. The road trip showed me that I can do it, I can see her in her entirety without desperately trying to cling to her identity as my son. One day this ache in my chest will go. If it can disappear for two weeks, it can disappear for longer than that too.